After our five-week sojourn in the sixth chapter of John’s gospel, we are back with dear Mark and his pell-mell tilt through the life and ministry of Jesus. I love Mark. Everything happens “immediately” and I always feel a little out of breath as I read along.
This week, Jesus is having a bit of a barney with the local religious experts, regarding whether or not his students are observing the traditions with adequate fervor. I have a small tendency toward rubricism myself, and so I can easily identify with the Pharisees on a day when I’m feeling exceptionally honest.
In 2009, Teresa Angle-Young reminded readers of Homily Service that often in our common life the best becomes the enemy of the good; our desire to uphold the traditions and doctrinal standards of our faith interfere with our obligation to welcome the stranger and love our neighbor.
Whom do we include at the table of God? Whom do we exclude? What is the foundation of our faith? What is our motivation behind our rules and traditions? Like the Pharisees, we sometimes make assumptions and judgments based on human precepts, prejudices, and societal norms that undermine our ability and scope simply to love God and each other. It is fear, pride, greed, envy, and ignorance that defile us. Jesus did not condemn the law; rather he reminded us that it is what is in our hearts, or not in our hearts, that can make us unclean before God.
Sometimes in the institutional church, we focus on laws, traditions, and doctrine that are based not on love of God and one another, but on human precepts that in fact drive many away from our doors rather than welcoming them in loving fellowship. Jesus reminds us that our table is open, that the church is not a club. There is no secret handshake. Our doctrinal statements and traditions are certainly based on thousands of years of study by dedicated men and women of God, and yet, they are, when all is said and done, our limited and prejudiced human understandings.
How do you manage the tug-of-war between faithfulness and hospitality?
Teresa Angle-Young. Homily Service 42:3, 154-155.
Teresa Angle-Young is a United Methodist elder, and founding pastor of Sacred Tapestry, a Christian community in Marietta, GA.